This past Thursday, the men's volleyball team's 18-game winning streak was finally snapped in the semifinals of the MPSF tournament by UC Irvine. Having defeated CSUN for the second consecutive time last week, USC earned home court advantage for the rest of the conference tournament, which combined with their status as hosts of the NCAA tournament, meant that USC would be able to complete their run to the national championship entirely in Galen Center.
Unfortunately for them, the Anteaters had other plans. Coming in hot from a four set win over UCLA in the quarterfinals that ended the career of the legendary Bruins' volleyball coach Al Scates, UCI was looking to avenge their #1 vs. #2 loss last month at the hands of the Trojans. The UCI fans came in large numbers to the Galen Center, turning USC's home advantage into a neutral site at best, with only a small amount of hardcore USC students helping the band cheer on the team (though it should be noted that Matt Barkley was among that group).
The first two sets of the match were tight, with neither team able to build a lead bigger than three points. USC was able to take advantage of critical service errors by UCI to take those sets by the two-point minimum. It seemed that the Trojans were well on their way to the final, but then UCI came back blazing in the third set, building a massive lead and winning by nine points. The Anteaters kept that momentum going with a 5-0 start in the fourth set, but USC climbed back and tied the set at 24-24. In extra points, after a back and forth struggle, UCI won through following a kill and ace from juniors Kevin Carroll and Kevin Tillie. In the fifth and final set, UCI rattled off five straight points and never looked back, giving them the victory 24-26, 23-25, 25-16, 28-26, 15-9. It is the first time in six years that USC has lost a match after winning the first two sets.
For the Trojans, the loss couldn't have come at a worse time. A victory in the semifinals would have most likely guaranteed them a spot in the NCAA tournament, either by the automatic spot awarded to the conference tournament winner or by the at-large bid should they have lost in the final. Now their only hope lies in the three men in the NCAA selection committee, whom the Trojans hope will look favorably on their conference-best regular season record and their 18-game winning streak. Whether or not USC gets in may very likely come down to who wins tonight's MPSF conference final, which will be between UC Irvine and Stanford. The Trojans will be rooting for the Anteaters to win. If UCI wins and gets the automatic bid, then Stanford will be USC's main competitor for the at-large bid, and USC's resume stacks up better against that of the Farm. If Stanford wins the auto bid, then there's a very good chance that UCI will be picked over SC to get the auto bid based on the results of this semifinal. USC's destiny is now out of their hands, and in the hands of the Cardinal, the selection committee, and the team that may have just ended their hopes of winning a national title on their own home court.